Thursday, August 19, 2010

Web Usability with (almost) no resources

Just starting a review of JCU Library's web presence. I'm adopting the Steve Krug methodology of user involvement early, often, regular, in small numbers.

I've been researching intently on different approaches and Krug's pragmatism is very appealling. I'm not a web usability consultant with a team and $100,000 contract (I've worked in that situation in the past - but as the client). I'm just a wee library tech head with wide ranging responsibilities and no dedicated staff. I can draw on my colleagues to help but they too have wide ranging responsibilities and little time to dedicate to other projects.

Simple points Krug makes:
  • Usability testing can be done in house (it's not rocket surgerytm)
  • Any testing is better than no testing
  • 3 users will tell you 80% of what 20 users will tell you
  • Don't sweat on demographics/user selection:
    • Big problems will be big problems for everyone
    • There is no such thing as a typical user
    • Two male first year law students from a non-English speaking background could be as different to each other as they are from any other demographic slice
  • One user test early is worth one hundred late
  • Never stop testing
He convincingly argues why user testing has primacy over:
  • Analytics: can tell you a great deal about what people are doing on your site, but not why they are doing it e.g. are they spending a lot of time on one page because it's exactly what they are looking for or because it's completely confusing and takes a long time to digest?
  • Focus Groups: great for sampling users opinions and feelings in the abstract, but not great for determining whether your site actually works
  • User Surveys: asking people to remember what they did, when, and how often will result in a cleaned up, fuzzy version of what actually happened. Nothing beats observing in real time.
This is a new approach for us which will be evaluated after the implementation of the resulting redesign. If successful it offers a new way to approach our web presence that incorporates:
  • A continuous improvement model
  • A user centred approach
  • An evidence-based approach
We stand to learn a lot more about our users than we already know. This is a chance to remove our preconceptions from the equation, to get user input when we have conflicting opinions. I've often wondered when marking arbitrary decisions about web content arrangement whether I'm seeing the big picture or if I'm just sitting too close to the screen.

Step One is defining the site's main purposes. Stay tuned for what we come up with and more about Step Two...

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